Monday, May 07, 2007

Hat Crimes? What’s All This Talk of Hat Crimes? Oh, Never Mind!

Emily Litella aside, Eric Zorn has one of the best explanations I’ve seen of what differentiates so-called hate crimes from “normal” crimes. Hate crimes legislation has been in the news again and the usual suspects (mainly those who often subliminally or otherwise incorporate hate into their message) are opposed to any expansion of hate crime laws.

I don’t put hate crimes issues at the top of my list of things to worry about, but it is worthy of discussion. Here’s how Zorn makes explains a hate crime:
The simplest answer to this is that when hatred for a particular group or class or race is the obvious motive for an attack, that attack becomes, in effect, two crimes. The first is the offense itself. The second is the implicit threat that offense makes to other members of that group, class or race.

That second crime has new victims.

Consider an incident in which someone uses spray paint to deface the garage of a house into which a gay family has just moved.

The crime is vandalism, no matter what. But to argue against the idea of hate crimes is to argue that it shouldn't matter at all to the law whether the graffiti is a smiley face or some hostile, anti-gay slur

The smiley face is a petty annoyance. The hateful slogan is, in effect, a threat to other gay people in the area -- they might be next.
And he makes the important point that the legal system already takes into account what alleged criminals are thinking when committing a crime:
Lastly, do we punish people for their thoughts? Yes, all the time.

If John fires a gun and kills Bob, the law cares a great deal what John was thinking at the time as it decides if and how to punish John. Knowing that an action by John has resulted in Bob's death is not all the law needs to know. The law needs to know what John was thinking at the time.

Did John intend to kill Bob? Did he plan the shooting for months and murder him in cold blood, or was he in an irrational rage over something Bob did? Was he very afraid -- rightly or wrongly -- of Bob at the moment he pulled the trigger? Or did he fire the gun accidentally while picking it up? Did he shoot into the air on New Year's Eve and strike Bob standing several blocks away?
You often hear the notion of hate crimes dismissed because “all crimes ar hate crimes”. That one drives me buggy because that simply isn’t true. Again Zorn speaks to this perfectly:
An armed robber is not in any meaningful way motivated by or inspired by "hate" for his victim. Indifference probably best sums up his attitude toward his victim. It plays silly word games to try to confuse the idea of hate under these statutes with the garden variety view perpetrators generally have toward their victims, whch may be personal animosity (not a synonym for "hate" as the statute understands it) or, as I say, indifference. The armed robber doesn't "hate" his victim any more than a burglar or shoplifter or online swindler hates his victim -- he's just greedy and he doesn't care.
Just some food for thought yoiu might want to consider before reflexively (i.e., conservatively) rejecting the notion of hate crimes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I admit that there is a "thought police” mentality out there but I disagree with it. Not only is hate crime legislation against the first amendment but it is selectively enforced.Why should only blacks, jews, muslims, gays, and handicapped people be included in hate crime legislation? The Korean guy who killed the kids at VTU said that he HATED rich people. Why aren’t rich people included? Very hypocritical if you ask me.

If you commit a crime you should be punished. Period. Are these groups that are covered in the legislation somehow more important than others? I find it funny how liberals claim that conservatives are the ones who discriminate but in reality, it is the liberals who discriminate more often.

I guess you have to part of some minority group to get special rights and I think that is just wrong!